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effective parenting in a defective worldhow to raise kids who stand out from the crowd
By chip ingram
TYNDALE HOUSE PUBLISHERS, INC.Copyright © 2006 Chip Ingram
All right reserved.
Chapter OneHow to Raise Positive Kids in a Negative World
A few years ago, the popular prime-time sitcom Roseanne featured a dysfunctional family. The mother, in spite of being hilarious, whined almost all the time. She and the father, in spite of having tender moments with one another, fought constantly. They dealt with complex issues without much of a moral compass, and they reared their children in survival mode, with almost no hint of a proactive agenda for them. Guess how their children turned out? Morally aimless, with early pregnancies and dysfunctional relationships, frequently in trouble at school, often hanging with the wrong crowd, experimenting with dangerous drugs, and seemingly destined for a series of broken marriages and dead-end jobs.
But as the show often pointed out, deep down this family loved each other. Plus they were good at one-liners. It was the typical American family, as defined by Hollywood.
I know that using a fictional family as a case study has some drawbacks, but the fact that this family resonated with middle America is enlightening. Its portrayal had a lot of truth to it: Many parents livein survival mode while trying to raise basically good-hearted kids who, in spite of their life-shattering mistakes, really mean no harm. People watched this sitcom because they could relate. Its crude humor and dysfunctional relationships played out in prime time what was actually occurring in "real time" all over America. Here was a family in crisis who could laugh about it. How to Raise Positive Kids in a Negative World
But what appears funny from afar is often devastating up close, and even Christian parents sometimes seem resigned to living from one crisis to the next. Many of us are afraid our kids are going to get into trouble, and every time they veer this way or that way, we go nuts from anxiety. So we create a lot of fences and walls around them, rules and provisions that will keep them restrained and keep us from having knots in our stomach at night. On top of that, we open as many positive gates in those fences and walls as we can-enrolling them in enriching extracurricular activities-hoping that our open doors will lead them into all the right places.
It's easy to look at contemporary culture and begin parenting out of fear. Scared of what might happen, many of us become preoccupied with what we don't want our children to do-"I don't want them to get hooked on drugs" or "I don't want them to suffer the consequences of illicit sex." That's fear, and it leads to a defensive, tentative, and often overprotective approach to life.
The result is that we can smother our children or insulate them, forbidding them from engaging in activities or associating with anything or anyone that could bring them harm. We are easily guided by the land mines we want them to avoid rather than the character we want them to develop. When we do that, we're always emphasizing the negative to them rather than the positive. Not only is that counterproductive, it requires more effort than we can give; if carried to the extreme, it demands our being with them everywhere they go. Also, it teaches them to depend on us to protect them from a world full of negatives, so they never learn the skill of living positively in dependence on God. Furthermore, when our desire to protect our children makes us mistrust them, they can be powerfully, negatively affected. Mistrust often becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Children begin to act in ways that validate our mistrust, and that gives us even more reason to be suspicious.
It's fruitless to parent either without direction or from a reactionary anxiety that tries to anticipate and avoid any danger our kids might face. Deep down we know this, and we crave direction and practical tools that will help us restore sanity to our lives and help our children grow into true maturity. As much as we might laugh about the eccentricities of our culture, most parents realize that the culture has shaped their children in negative ways. We need God's perspective on our kids.
Being a Father Himself, God has a lot to say about how to teach and care for children. Some of it is very general, the "big picture" perspective, and some of it is very specific. Before we get into particular tools and techniques for biblical parenting, there are four foundational principles that we have to understand first. We'll cover the first two principles in this chapter; principles 3 and 4 are explained in chapter 2.
Principle 1: Set Clear-Cut Objectives
Picture in your mind a target: a bull's-eye surrounded by concentric circles. That picture portrays the first important principle, a principle that will spare you years of aimless and indecisive parenting. It will keep you from being a passive or reactive parent and allow you to parent with purpose. Proactive parenting requires a target.
That's how effective parenting begins: with positive, clear-cut objectives. If you want to make a real difference in the lives of your children, you'll need to be firmly convinced of this principle. As they say, if you aim at nothing, you'll hit it every time. You can't really get on the road to effective parenting until you have some idea of where that road is going, of what kind of kids you want to end up with. Fear-based or go-with-the-flow parenting can be disastrous; the flow often goes in the wrong direction. Positive, clear-cut objectives will guide your decision making on the many occasions when decisions seem difficult to make. What are you trying to accomplish with your children? Do you have a clear target?
Be aware, however, that just as important as deciding to set a target is being careful to choose the right one. A man nearing retirement age was telling me that his son, a thirtysomething guy who had two failed marriages, still wasn't sure what career he wanted to pursue and had abandoned the family faith. This son lived a reasonably self-sufficient life and justified his lack of direction-aimlessness made him feel "free." I detected a high degree of disappointment in this father's voice; he clearly had an agenda for his son that had not been fulfilled (or perhaps an anti-agenda that had been fulfilled). None of his attempts to steer his son away from bad choices had been successful. But with a sigh of resignation, he looked at me and said, "At least he seems happy. I guess that's all a parent can hope for."
That's a false target. Our culture has deeply ingrained in us that the real goal of parenting is to raise happy children. That's a "Happy Meal" approach to parenting, and children are enthusiastic supporters of it-evidenced by the fact that kids choose 50 percent of a family's fast-food restaurant visits, according to one marketing group.
And this keep-them-happy approach applies across the board. Because this philosophy is so ingrained in our society, we've bought into the lie that our children are deprived if they aren't involved in soccer, ballet, baseball, gymnastics, piano, and every other activity available out there-all while wearing the "in" kinds of clothes with the right labels-even when their demanding schedules keep us driving back and forth across town several times a day. It's really hard to resist this current of our culture; resistance requires an intentional and persistent effort, especially when your kids try to convince you that you're persecuting them by going against the grain. But if we don't, the culture, not God, will bear its own fruit in our kids.
Examine society's picture of parenthood carefully. It tries to convince us that the target of a good parent is to ensure their children have highly developed athletic prowess, refined social skills, and the best and most prestigious education, all of which should lead to greater upward mobility in life with greater opportunities and, of course, greater happiness. We can easily find ourselves bending over backward to make sure our kids never have a bad day and never lack any opportunity for success that might be out there. And the pressure's on, because if we fail at any of these points-if we don't work hard enough to earn enough money and rearrange our schedules to make enough time-we (and others) might feel as if we've done a bad job as parents.
I've got news for you. This is a dead-end street. The difference here is not simply a matter of parenting style, it's a matter of distinguishing between your dream for your child and God's dream for your child. Do you understand what you want to produce-or more importantly, what God wants for your kids? You have a tremendous opportunity to shape these vessels of the Holy Spirit and help them fulfill God's calling. God has a plan for your children that fits with His overarching purpose. What are you doing to set your children up for success as God defines it? You can't hit the target until you know what the target looks like.
Fortunately, God gives the abridged version of His strategy for us as parents in Ephesians 6:4: "Fathers, do not exasperate your children." That's a negative command, but Paul then turns it around and states it positively: "Instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord." He warns against overcorrecting children, against placing demands on them that will be counterproductive. The idea is to create the conditions that make it as easy as possible for your kids to understand and embrace God's instructions and His ways.
Fathers especially get a little nudge in this passage. We'll explore the thought more deeply later, but for now, notice that God wants dads to have some real initiative in the family. Fathers are to take the lead in discipline and to implement it in such a way that children are better equipped to grow in faith. If there's no father in the household, it may take some creativity and initiative on your part for your children to be influenced by positive male role models-grandfathers, uncles, family friends, and men from church can help. But discipline can really only be implemented from within the home. Dads need to know how to do that.
On the flip side, parents who really care about the welfare of their kids-in other words, almost all of us-need to guard against our tendency to overcorrect. We can become so focused on external details of performance that we end up spending most of our time pointing out where our children need to improve. The result is kids who will become frustrated and rapidly lose heart.
As parents, we need to have a clear idea of what's most important. There are moral issues on which we have to be uncompromising, and there are matters of style. You may not like your teenage son's experiments with facial hair, but if he's trying drugs, focus your attention on the right issue. One, biblically speaking, is amoral; the other has life-threatening implications. As much as possible, focus on the essentials and give some latitude on the nonessentials. In other words, pick your battles. If you don't try to dominate in every small battle, you're much more likely to win the war.
The positive side of the command is to "bring them up" in Christian teaching and discipline. The Greek word for "bring them up" is interesting. In classical literature, this word meant to nurture or develop, and it focused primarily on physical development. The emphasis was on helping children grow big and strong. As the Greek language progressed, however, the word came to imply the total development of a child-not just physical, but intellectual, emotional, and spiritual. That was the connotation of the word when Paul used it in Ephesians; he's encouraging parents to do everything they can do to help their children reach their full potential.
It's important to instill in your kids the confidence that you believe in them; let them know you're counting on their character to help them navigate the land mines themselves. It's much more efficient and effective to teach your kids survival skills than to walk every step of the way with them to ensure their survival. Focus on the internal issues in training them rather than simply focusing on the external behaviors. If your children learn godly character, you won't always have to place godly restraints around them.
Did you realize God gave you that much responsibility? Parents have a lot of territory to cover. We are to bring up our children by constantly nurturing them toward maturity and by using the tools of Christian teaching and discipline. It's a grace-filled process designed to instill faith in the next generation-and to shape the world and the eternal Kingdom of God.
DEVELOPING SHARP FOCUS
Having a clear target is one thing. The ability to focus on it consistently is another. The key to parenting is to rivet your attention on the bull's-eye in sharp focus.
According to Romans 8:29, God's goal for all of us, including our children, is not to conform us to an ideal but to the image of His Son. Remember that target you pictured earlier in this chapter? The bull's-eye is actually a person: Jesus. Your goal and mine as parents is to help each one of our kids become like Jesus.
This goal has nothing to do with hairstyles and sandals. Neither is it simply about stuffing a bunch of memory verses into your children's heads, conforming to the culture of a certain denomination, or rigidly observing a daily quiet time. Our task is higher and more ambitious than that. In fact, it's supernatural, and it will require supernatural help. The point is for your children to be kind like Jesus, disciplined like Jesus, others-centered like Jesus, and holy and pure not because they have to, but because they love Jesus and want to be like Him. Establishing spiritual disciplines can be a handy tool sometimes, but the real goal is to cultivate the kind of love for the Lord that shapes the dreams and character of your child.
Parents must have a singular focus and a daily prayer: "Lord, will You help me cooperate with You so we can work together on this gift You've entrusted to me? Will You help me prepare this vessel to be filled with Your Spirit, so that in ten, twenty, thirty years this child loves and trusts You, knows Your grace, and has values and convictions that reflect Your heart?" If you ever wanted to know how to get an A as a parent, this is it.
Your children may go to Harvard, or they may not go to any college at all. They may have a lot of letters after their name or none at all. They may be really good at sports or ballet because that's exactly what God has designed them to do, or God may have created them to do things that will never fit with dreams you've had or footsteps you've already walked in. All of those things begin to fade in importance once you understand that your primary goal is to help your child know God and be like Him. That recalibrates your life, rearranges your schedule, and helps you sleep easier at night.
GOD'S DREAM FOR YOUR CHILDREN
God's dream for your children is that they be holy, not happy. Sounds like a depressing goal to have, doesn't it? Let me explain why it isn't. It's true that the word holy has some negative connotations, but only because people have abused it over the years. When the Bible talks about holiness, it does not mean being moralistic, always serious, looking down on everyone, or dressing in long robes and secluding oneself in a monastery. Biblical holiness is winsome and joyful. It means "set apart" to God and being filled with His pleasures and purposes.
Parenting Myth: Your goal is to make your kids happy. Parenting Reality: Your goal is to make your kids holy- set apart for God.
Most people, however, think holiness and happiness are mutually exclusive. Nothing could be further from the truth! Nowhere in the Bible are holiness and happiness separated from each other. God is very much interested in your child's happiness, but His way to happiness is different from ours. His does not involve overwhelming our children with a smorgasbord of activity, clothing them in the most expensive labels, and anxiously guarding them from every potential evil. God's way to happiness is Christlikeness.
How do we know? "Those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son" (Romans 8:29). That's the ultimate goal of God's parenting, it's supposed to be the ultimate goal of ours, and it's also the only way to ultimate joy. Our culture's focus on making kids happy is generally focused on short-term happiness, not eternity-long happiness. That kind of parenting usually produces children who are always striving for more and better, with happiness always just out of their reach because more and better is never enough. They are never content. But the byproduct of holiness is joy. If our focus is on cultivating the character of God in our children, we'll be setting them up for the kind of happiness that comes from genuine, deep joy-both now and forever.
Excerpted from effective parenting in a defective world by chip ingram Copyright © 2006 by Chip Ingram. Excerpted by permission.
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